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In re M.L.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

March 1, 2018

IN RE: M.L. A MINOR CHILD [Appeal By B.W., Mother]

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Court Division Case No. AD 15916500

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Christina Joliat.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Colleen R. Cassidy Ulrich County Department of Human Services Assistant County Prosecutor.

          For C.C.D.C.F.S. Cheryl Rice Assistant County Prosecutor.

          Guardian Ad Litem For Minor Child Candace L. Brown.

          For Johnny Litt, Father Michael S. Weiss 602 Rockefeller Building.

          BEFORE: Blackmon, J., E.T. Gallagher, P.J., and Jones, J.



         {¶1} Appellant, B.W. (referred to herein as "appellant"), mother of M.L., appeals from the order of the juvenile court that awarded permanent custody of M.L. to the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         {¶2} M.L. was born in November 2015, while appellant was incarcerated following her convictions for child endangering and domestic violence. Several days after M.L. was born, CCDCFS filed a dependency complaint, seeking predispositional temporary custody. In relevant part, CCDCFS alleged that two of appellant's other children were also in the custody of CCDCFS, and that M.L.'s alleged father did not establish paternity, has another child who is not in his care, and has not completed case plan services for this child.[1]

         {¶3} The trial court awarded temporary custody of M.L. to CCDCFS. Appellant requested that the children be placed with the paternal grandmother but her home was unsuitable. No other relatives were available for placement, so M.L. was placed in foster care. CCDCFS subsequently implemented a case plan requiring appellant to show that she could meet M.L.'s basic needs, and to attend anger management classes, counseling, and parenting classes. A guardian ad litem ("GAL") was appointed for the child.

         {¶4} Following a hearing on March 7, 2016, the trial court determined that M.L. is a dependent child. After subsequent pretrials, the court also noted that appellant "has been released from incarceration and has failed to appear for * * * hearing."

         {¶5} On July 5, 2016, CCDCFS filed a complaint for permanent custody of M.L., alleging that appellant has not completed recommended services, has not benefitted from anger management and domestic violence education, did not have stable housing, and could not provide for the basic needs of M.L. CCDCFS further alleged that paternity had been established, but father had not engaged in any case plan services, and only visited with M.L. twice.

         {¶6} On December 29, 2016, appellant filed a motion requesting that her maternal cousin, A.M., be appointed legal custodial for M.L. After speaking with A.M. on several occasions and visiting her home twice, the GAL issued a report that included the following:

[A.M.] is nineteen years old. She has a daughter, who is seven months old. When the [GAL] first visited [A.M.] in January 2017, her three bedroom apartment was nearly empty. She had one piece of furniture, a blow-up mattress in her bedroom. Social Worker Olivia Goins-Jordan helped [A.M.] obtain some furniture for her home.
When [GAL] visited the home again in March 2017, [A.M.] had only a couch and a chair in her living room, as well as a toddler bed. [A.M.] was only working sporadically as a home health aide. She said at the time that she was working part-time and was in the process of finding another job. At that time, the [GAL] read through [A.M.'s] lease to her apartment. Her lease was obtained in October 2016 through the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005. She initially had a female roommmate that was later taken off the lease. The [GAL] asked [A.M.] whether she was a victim of domestic violence and generally asked her about how she obtained her housing. [A.M.] denied being a victim of domestic violence and did not offer any further details about her past or background.
Because of [A.M.'s] age, the fact that she has her own daughter to care for, and [A.M.'s] limited work history and stability, the [GAL] has concerns about [A.M.'s] ability to additionally provide for M.L. No other relatives have been identified who are willing and able to care for M.L.
M.L. has remained placed in the same foster home since she was born. She is bonded with her foster parents and has become integrated into their family. The foster parents are interested in adopting M.L.
Based upon the [GAL's] investigation, the [GAL] finds that it is in the best interests of M.L. that CCDCFS be granted permanent custody of her. Although [appellant] has made some progress in alleviating the conditions that caused removal of M.L., by participating in case plan services, [Appellant] does not have furniture or appliances at her current home. [appellant] is unable at this time to provide for M.L.'s basic needs, and it is unclear if or when [appellant] would be able to do so.

         {¶7} At trial, appellant's former social worker, Catherine Borden ("Borden"), testified that appellant's convictions for child endangering and domestic violence stem from an incident of physical abuse upon M.L.'s brother and he has been removed from appellant's care. M.L.'s sister was removed from the home due to neglect of her medical issues. Borden testified that appellant is currently on parole. Appellant had completed some services as required on her case plan, but did not benefit from them. Appellant does not have her own residence, and has lived with various friends and relatives. With regard to the father, Borden testified that he had established paternity, but he informed Borden that he did not intend to engage in case plan services for M.L. and would instead focus on raising his other children. He rarely visits M.L.

         {¶8} Appellant's current social worker, Olivia Goins-Jordan ("Goins-Jordan"), testified that as of the time of trial, appellant lived with her fiancé, but their apartment did not have a stove or refrigerator. Appellant indicated that her fiancé's relatives lived upstairs and she had permission to use their appliances. Goins-Jordan also believed that appliances could be obtained through a community collaborative organization. Goins-Jordan opined that appellant is more stable than she had been previously and is appropriate during her visits with M.L. Goins-Jordan also noted that appellant has two part-time jobs and was looking for another job.

         {¶9} Goins-Jordan testified that M.L. is well-bonded to her foster family, and that her needs were met in that placement. The father did not respond to Goins-Jordan's repeated efforts to contact ...

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